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Arab World

Events in Egypt cause tension in Tunisia

Tunisians are regarding events in Egypt with a mixture of fear and admiration. The government is afraid that it could come under pressure too, while the opposition has been lifted.

Die Demonstranten fordern die Rückkehr des abgesetzten Präsidenten Mohamed Morsi 5.Juli 2013, Tunis, Tunesien
Copyright: Sarah Mersch

Reaktionen in Tunesien auf den Sturz von Ägyptens Präsident Mursi

It's Friday afternoon. A few dozen demonstrators have gathered in front of the Egyptian embassy in Tunis. These days the building is even more heavily guarded than usual. They have come to voice their support for Egypt's ousted president, Mohammed Morsi. Most of the protesters are indeed Egyptian, but a few Tunisians have joined them, demanding the overthrow of the military.

One of them is Mehdi. What happened in Egypt, he says, was a coup, but it couldn't happen here, in his own country. "Those Tamarrod people have no business here. Everything will be good if God wills it," he says, before adding that unlike in Egypt, Tunisians respect the legitimacy of its elections.

Police outside Egyptian embassy in Tunisia
5.Juli 2013, Tunis, Tunesien
Copyright: Sarah Mersch

Protesters have come out in support of Morsi in Tunis

Watching the crowd from a distance is elementary school teacher Mohammed. He says he can only shake his head in disbelief that people still choose to defend Morsi - and hopes the protest waves will soon reach Tunisia. "Egypt has finally had its revolution - the first one wasn't a real one."

He is convinced it will soon happen in Tunisia. "Political Islam has failed," he says. "The Islamists have not implemented any political reforms. They haven't tackled any problems." Now, he argues, the population will wake up and see that there are only empty words behind it, and that religion won't feed them. Mohammed wants to see a clear division between religion and state - though the freedom of religion must still be guaranteed.

Marzouki wants consensus

Meanwhile, Ennahdha, the largest party in the government coalition is locked in a tense silence. The magic word is the legitimacy of the urns - even if the ones in Egypt have not helped much. Members of the government have routinely condemned events in Egypt, and made assurances that this would never happen in the country that sparked the so-called Arab Spring. Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki repeated this message at the recent visit by his French counterpart Francois Hollande. "I would have liked to see the Egyptians arrive at a political consensus," he declared before condemning the interference of the army.

French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech beside Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki (R) before the state dinner at the Carthage Palace in Tunis, July 4, 2013. REUTERS/Anis Mili (TUNISIA - Tags: POLITICS)

Marzouki (right) promised that Egyptian events would not be repeated in Tunisia

"In Tunisia we must not allow ourselves to be divided by ideology," Marzouki said. "The so-called Islamists and laicists must find a political consensus. We are always open for dialogue." He then went on to promise elections and the passing of a constitution within the next six months.

Unity government as a solution?

In the meantime, the Tunisian opposition parties have been buoyed by developments in Egypt, calling with more urgency than usual for a new political direction. Nidaa Tounes, the movement around 86-year-old former interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, is defending Morsi's ouster and is calling for the dissolution of the constituent assembly. This has been sitting since October 2011, when it was meant to agree a new constitution for the nation of 10 million people within a year.

Meanwhile, the Popular Front, an alliance of communist and other left-wing parties, is calling for the wholesale removal of government representatives. This group, the third largest political force in Tunisia according to polls, considers the military's seizure of power in Egypt as justified, and claims that Ennahdha has betrayed the aims of the revolution. In order to achieve concrete results as quickly as possible, they are calling for a commission of experts to finish writing the constitution, followed by the formation of a national unity government to lead the country out of its economic crisis.

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